In the AP-Ipsos poll, 53% say immigrants to France are a bad influence on the country and 52% say it is better for a country if nearly all its residents share the same customs and traditions.
 
Not all the French sentiment about immigrants was negative, however.

Seven in 10 say it is better for a country to have a variety of people with different religions, and three-fourths say immigrants take the jobs that French nationals are unwilling to do.

Immigration has long been a difficult issue in France, which is home to both the largest Muslim population in western Europe - 5 million - and to the largest Jewish community in Europe. Many Muslims are also French citizens.

The country's growing Muslim population hails mainly from the former French colonies of Algeria, Morocco and Tunisia. The French government also is concerned about a rise in Islamic activism and by the fact that some Muslims have not fully 'integrated' into the French society.

Controversial laws

A recently passed law in France forbids students from wearing conspicuous religious symbols and clothing to school. The law was enacted mainly to defuse controversy about Muslim headscarves, but also applies to attire such as the Jewish yarmulke and large crucifixes.

In 1999, the latest year for which statistics are available, there were 3.2 million foreigners living in France, roughly 5.6% of the country's 60 million people. Major nationalities included Portuguese (553,000), Italians (201,000), Moroccans (504,000), Algerians (477,482) and Tunisians (154,000).
 
In 2001 - 141,000 permanent foreign residents permits were accorded, and, significantly 69% of them were for consolidation of family members - bringing families together once a parent, for instance, is a resident. Six percent went to refugees and 8% for work.

The AP-Ipsos poll of 938 French residents, conducted 14 – 15 May, has a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 3% points.